By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Sara Eshleman
Twelve chief petty officer selectees were initiated into the Chief’s Mess aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Bulkeley (DDG 84) during a pinning ceremony Sept. 15, 2018.
The crew gathered on the fo'c'sle to watch the ceremony and congratulate the new chiefs. The ceremony is held annually, following an arduous 6-week initiation in which selectees undergo a series of trials designed to test their mental and physical fortitude. The selectees work together to research, present and train until theirpinning.
“When you go through the process, it’s something that you’ll never ever forget,” said Chief Fire Controlman John Palmer. “I called it the best worst time of my life because it is not an easy process. It is very demanding both mentally and physically, but if you can make it through the process, it makes you a better chief.
Palmer made chief in 2014, and was a sponsor to a chief petty officer selectee in this year’s chief ceremony. Each selectee is matched with a sponsor who helps to guide them through the process. Palmer served as sponsor to newly frocked Chief Boatswain's Mate Lee Hardin.
Hardin was standing watch on the bridge on the day he found out he had been selected for chief.
“I looked inside the door, inside the pilothouse, and the commanding officer came in – “ said Hardin. “ He was looking at me – he just grabbed the 1MC and just started talking. And I just put my head down like ‘oh my god.’ I didn’t believe it. It took me awhile to actually believe it because I was like ‘there’s no way.’”
Before a Sailor is eligible to pick up the rank of E7, they will have occupied the role of leading petty officer (LPO) as a 1st class petty officer. Hardin recalls what helped him survive the process, as 12 selects – all having occupied the position of LPO - coming from separate work centers adjusted to the challenge of working together.
“A lot of us, we don’t really work together that often,” said Hardin. “We learned a lot about each other and working as a team and helping each other when you’re at your lowest point.”
Palmer echoed Hardin’s statements.
“Watching these guys come together - you’ve got this LPO that’s been sequestered over here in this little world, and then you’ve got that LPO sequestered in this little world over here, and every single one of them has got their own method of leadership and their own style,” said Palmer. “They all think that the way they’re doing it is the right way to do it. Which is not wrong, but when you put them all together in the same room and try to get them to perform this leadership at the same time, they’re going to butt heads; and they did. A lot.”
Yet, the selectees prevailed throughout their initiation process.
“We had so many different ideas and everybody thought their way was the best,” said Palmer. “But they actually came together at the end and were like you know what? Maybe we can kind of incorporate all of these methods, or a few of these methods, and make it happen. And that was the most fulfilling part for me, just watching them grow from 12 individuals into one cohesive unit.”
Hardin recalls the final night of the initiation, sleep deprived and exhausted as he was.
“And then the final night, we were pumped up – we had so much adrenaline,” said Hardin. “You’re tired but you’re not tired, if that makes sense. I’ve never done so many push-ups in my life in one day and I didn’t stop.”
Truly, the transition from E6 to E7 is among the biggest milestones in a Sailor’s career, and it leaves the Sailor changed.
“I like to think of it as a personal change in me,” said Palmer, reflecting on his own transition to chief. “The growth process that I had to go through during the season, the different styles of leadership that I learned during the season and after the season. The learning never stops though; it’s an ever evolving process – the initiation is just the beginning in terms of molding the chief selects into chiefs and becoming more than what they are already, and I’m always changing myself. What I did three years ago is probably not what I would have done today.”
“You have to change, especially as far as work,” said Hardin. “You really just have to. It’s part of the whole process, you have to change. You can’t do the same things you did as a 1st class – that’s just not going to fly. It was a lot of fun. A lot of laughs, a lot of pain, but overall…would I do it again? Probably so.”
Bulkeley, homeported at Naval Station Norfolk, is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe and Africa.